What is it, examples, effects and more

Authoritarian parenting is one of the most effective and beneficial parenting styles. Here’s what to know about it.

Imagine walking into your child’s room and noticing that his homework isn’t finished, the room is a mess, and he’s on the phone talking with his friend. What are you doing?

Being a parent isn’t easy, especially at times like these.

Your first instinct may be to yell and punish your child. But what if you instead choose to remind them of your request and give them a firm deadline for when you think both tasks will be completed? You can set consequences for not completing tasks, such as removing their phone for the day.

Of course, there is no “right” way to handle the situation. Yet, that might be exactly how someone following an authoritarian parenting style would react in this situation.

This parenting style has proven to be very effective in psychological research. Here’s what to know about it.

Authoritarian parenting is sometimes confused with authoritarian parenting, which is actually very different. Authoritarian parenting is a parenting philosophy developed in the 1960s by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind.

It aims to strike a balance between structure and culture.

“Parents who use an authoritative style have certain expectations for their children, although they use respect to encourage good behavior,” explains Jaclyn Gulottaa mental health counselor and parenting coordinator based in Lake Mary, Florida.

In other words, authoritative parents can set clear boundaries and rules for their children, but they will also give them the resources and support they need to succeed and meet those expectations.

They also leave some room for conversation and compromise in their relationship with their child.

“This style is much more democratic”, explains Brent Metcalfa clinical social worker based in Johnson City, Tennessee.

“Guardians who use this style of parenting are sensitive to their children and generally listen to the children for any complaints or questions they have about the rules put in place.”

Caregivers who use authoritative parenting also tend to use fair discipline and are more lenient if a child does not meet expectations, especially if there are extenuating circumstances.

Indeed, in general, an authoritative parent will rely more on positive reinforcement and encouragement, rather than punishment or threats, to get their children to strive to do better next time.

Authoritarian parenting is one of the four basic parenting styles described in the foundational psychological literature, according to a 2019 review. The other three are:

  • authoritarian parenting. This parenting style is very strict and relies on punishment and less open communication about the reasoning behind the rules. It’s what Metcalf says he calls the “because I said so” parenting style.
  • Permissive parenting. This parenting style is lenient, with very few concrete requirements or rules for children. “Children who experience this parenting style are rarely disciplined and [their caregivers] are generally caring and communicative with their children,” says Metcalf. “It often feels more like a friendship than a parent-child relationship.”
  • Parenthood not involved. This style also has very few parental requirements or rules, but there is also not much communication between child and caregiver. “Parents can provide for children’s basic needs — food, water, shelter, clothing — but they are usually detached from their child’s life,” says Metcalf.

Of course, there are other complementary parenting philosophies, including mindful parenting. In general, these are strategies that often work with one of these basic styles, rather than replacing them.

It’s hard to say for sure if authoritarian parenting is the most effective.

Psychologists and parents often disagree about how best to raise the caregiver’s particular children. Not all children respond in exactly the same way to boundaries, rules, or even support and nurturing from their parents.

There are also many different factors that influence each child’s development and mental health, research 2019 said. This could limit the effectiveness of a particular parenting style.

Expert opinion

However, many psychologists, researchers, and child development experts — including Metcalf and Gulotta — are big proponents of authoritarian parenting because of its benefits.

“[It] may be more effective than other parenting styles because it promotes a sense of security and stability in parents,” says Gulotta. “Children can feel more respected and feel validated even when disciplined.”

“It can make children more confident in their relationships and attachments,” says Gulotta.

What the research says

Research also seems to suggest that authoritative parenting can be very beneficial for children.

A 2015 study found that an authoritarian parenting style can stimulate creativity in children.

A study 2020 found that authoritarian parenting led to greater life satisfaction among young people aged 14 to 29.

A study 2021 suggested that it could have a positive impact on self-esteem and problem-solving skills.

This is not necessarily the case with other parenting styles.

For example, while authoritarian parenting can lead children to grow into obedient and competent adults, Metcalf explains, it can also make them less happy, socially competent, or develop self-esteem issues and a fear of failure.

Liz Weissman Youngeducation specialist and virtual parent educator, says, “Permissive parents who are unable to effectively and consistently set limits for their children often unknowingly maintain insecure bonds with their children because of this lack of structure.

This can prevent children from developing self-regulation skills, authority issues, relationship issues, and poor academic performance.

As for uninvolved parenting, says Metcalf, “Children who experience this parenting style typically rank lowest in all areas of life, lack self-control, have low self-esteem, and may be less competent than their peers”.

Several studies, including one study 2019 including 600 Flemish families, found that authoritarian parenting has many positive effects on children, especially compared to other parenting styles. Here are some pros and cons:

Advantages

The inconvenients

The biggest downside to authoritarian parenting is that it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to all parents, and some find it difficult to maintain it over time, especially if they’re going through stressful times in their own lives.

“[Authoritative parenting] takes effort, consistency, and patience,” says Weissman-Young, “which is difficult if parents don’t have enough support or the tools they need to parent in this way.

If you find adopting this parenting style difficult at first or sometimes feel stressed, consider taking it easy. Losing patience or slipping up once in a while isn’t going to undo everything you’ve built. It’s good to grow as a parent.

Ultimately, the key to being an authoritative parent is striving to be communicative with your child, as well as a good role model. To do this, you may sometimes benefit from asking your partner, family, friends or even a therapist for help yourself.

Authoritative parenting is a very effective parenting style that allows you to set boundaries and expectations for your children while providing them with the love, patience, warmth, and support they need to grow into well-adjusted adults.

It’s not always the easiest parenting style to adopt — or maintain — but it can help you and your child develop a healthy, loving, and respectful relationship over time.

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